This blog introduces you to my special brand of BIKE. I show you how to find your Best self, access your Inner strength, tune in to your Killer instincts, and use your Expressive voice. It's inspiring, spiritual, quirky, and it's all in your head. It's about ATTITUDE, not exercise, though that might be a side benefit.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stop perpetuating the 20 cent a word myth

I participated in a #journchat Twitter party yesterday afternoon, when the discussion evolved into a question about expected salaries for new journalists just out of college (Sidebar: My first salary equaled somewhere around $21K to edit a magazine, and this was back in the late 1980s).

But it was the first question that led to the tweet above -- upsetting to say the least.  I'll tell you why.

The moderator started us off with: "If you could change one thing about your industry, what would it be?"

I said, "Wouldn't it be great to see an increase in pay? Especially from newspapers for freelance work."

To which one Britt Hysen (above), who writes for the asked me what the average freelance pay is these days. I told her, "Newspapers may pay $100 for a 500-700 word story, more/less." But with magazines, I wrote, "it's getting difficult to get $1/word anymore."

That's not a good thing. Yet, from her response above, you can see she think it's a lot, which makes these numbers even worse.

Any long-time freelancer knows it's difficult to make a living as an independent journalist. You cannot do it writing for newspapers and magazines alone. Many of us find ways to diversify our experience. Maybe we write corporate newsletters, design websites, sell our photos, teach classes, offer social media to other business clients, and certainly we write books that will give us an "expert" status and hopefully higher pay, because -- and here's the clincher...

Just because you might get $1/word doesn't mean you're going to be assigned a lot of words to go with that rate. Writing a lot of words and making a lot of those dollars? That's not happening.

Where magazines used to run several long-form, narratives, they are now running shorter and shorter pieces. The "front of the book," as we call it, where all the shorts used to run, has expanded. There's now the middle of the book and the back of the book, and just a few lengthier features scattered in between. They're doing this why? You know, because readers no longer have attention spans. Technology has ruined us, we've been told. It's turning us all into victims of attention deficit disorder, or so the publishing industry would have us believe.

While I don't believe that's true -- I believe people crave full-length stories -- what I do believe is that the industry is just too cheap to pay for it, anymore. I have friends who have been writing for consumer magazines for many years, and they remember times when they were getting $4 or even $5 per every word they wrote. Now, Britt Hysen, that's a lot! That is where you could get very comfortable writing for magazines. You could actually even make a living as a magazine writer.

But these days, that's just not the case. The $1/word market used to be the minimum freelancers would strive to get. Today, we're very hopeful if we can get that. In fact, I generally don't even like to pitch magazines that pay less, because you just simply cannot pay your mortgage on .20/word. Think about it: How many words would you have to write to pay a $1,200 monthly mortgage? 6,000 words. You'd have to write 6,000 words every month just to make your mortgage. And you still haven't written enough to pay your utilities and have enough left over to eat something here and there.

That also means .20/word is not good. It's barely okay. But it is not good. It's not much better than those who would claim it's good to work for exposure. Again, that's a big N-O. Just keep in mind that "exposure" is the new "volunteer."

Also keep in mind that it is rare, rare, rare to get a 6,000-word assignment, anyway. So even the buck a word jobs wouldn't pay your mortgage -- unless you were assigned several -- because most editors are assigning jobs closer to the 500-word and less numbers. Or, they're simply paying a flat fee. I get a lot of those. $500 here. $300 there. When I recently took on a 2,400-word assignment, some of my writer friends were in awe. And so was I. I about died. And then I freaked because I was out of practice writing long-form journalism. As I said, it's assigned so rare these days. If it is, those plumb assignments go to the very regular writers that editors know well. Those of us who are not contributing writers for a specific market rarely see gems like that. So this was my happy dance moment.

But what's the takeaway? You might wonder: Why continue working in an industry that pays so poorly? What's the benefit?

We still get to choose the projects we take on. We still get to set our own hours. We get to work in piece, without office gossip. We get to enjoy a lot of freedoms working on our own. What we do not get is job security. We don't get that regular paycheck. Many of us don't have health insurance. We don't get sick days off. We work around the clock in many cases. And, really, our job is more selling than writing. But we get to choose whether we'll reel in the measly .20/word job or keep fishing for the higher-paying markets.

I choose to keep fishing, because even when I first started freelancing I knew .20/word was minimal, that it was not good. And I'll keep telling other writers that. Not because I don't think you should take the cheapo jobs. You should if you think it's worthwhile. But you should also stop fooling yourself into believing that low pay is good pay. It wasn't before the market fell apart, and it's still not now. If you can find a way to make it work for you, by all means, do it. But just don't continue to perpetuate a myth.

When all freelancers begin to stand up for higher pay -- because we work just as hard for the low-rent jobs as we do the higher-end jobs, and we work just as long, and we use the same skill sets and resources -- that's when we'll start to see rates increase to a more liveable rate.

Because don't forget: No one's in business to work for free, nor almost free. We're in business to make a living. And to make a living, you have to earn it. To earn it, you have to find clients that pay you what you're worth.

And I think you're worth more than .20/word. Don't you?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Twitter, improv and an artist date

It started with a simple tweet, which I retweeted:

Then a conversation between the two of us followed:

He mentioned "bike." And I was hooked. I took the free class on Saturday afternoon. It lasted three hours and was such a blast. I returned to Twitter that evening and chatted with The Torch Theatre some more, promising to return for a class in the fall. My summer schedule is too up in the air to sign up now. But I will be back. Here's a bit of what happened in the free class. Wish I had photos...

We did the warm-up exercises where you learn how important eye contact is to improvisational acting, and also how to work together as a team. This is where you practice saying, "Yes, and..." In improv, you learn how to accept another person's idea and roll with it, in order to keep a scene alive. If you disagree or don't want to do what the suggestion calls for, the scene ends. There's no where else to go. And what is the fun of that? In general, this is a great life lesson.

For fun, try these improv games at home with your family and friends:

Zip, Zap, Zop (and other variations)
Stand in a circle. One player begins by pointing with his hands to the player on his right, makes eye contact, and says, "Zip." Now that player turns to his player on the right, points, makes eye contact, and says, "Zap." The next player then points to the player in the circle on his right, makes eye contact, and says, "Zap." You keep doing this till you're comfortable, and then you can start pointing to anyone in the circle. It no longer has to be the person on your right. It can be the person on your left or the person across from you, anyone at all. You just keep shouting out, "Zip, Zap, Zop," trying to keep up with the words and the rhythm, all the while making that eye contact so people are clear who's being called upon. It becomes a loud mess of yelling, laughing, getting confused, but eventually you get it. The game helps you practice making eye contact, maintaining a sense of focus, and accepting your role in the game.

Yes, let's!
For this exercise, be prepared to get silly. The game starts by someone yelling out some call to action. It has to start with "Let's." So it could be something like, "Let's eat pizza!" And the group yells back in union, "Yes, let's." And everyone immediately starts miming the act of eating pizza until another person calls out a different action. It could be anything. In our game, people called out things like, "Let's swim with the sharks!" and "Let's eat cotton candy!" and "Let's walk the dog!" After each request, we all yelled back, "Yes, let's!" and then proceeded to do that action. Since the stage at this theater is very small, the ten of us -- all strangers to each other -- were crowed in tightly together. It was sheer madness and a ton of fun. Lots of laughing out loud. Lot's movement. Lot's of up and down. You never knew what the next person was going to call out. But whatever it was, we said, "Yes, let's!" and did it.

What are you doing?
Here's a game that will teach you how to think fast and be in the moment. You all stand in a line against the wall. One player at the head of the line goes to the center of the stage and begins miming an action. The next person in line walks over and asks, "What are you doing?" Instead of saying what it looks like he's doing, that person makes something up that is entirely different. So maybe he's miming folding laundry. But instead of saying he's folding laundry, he'd say he's changing a light bulb. Then he leaves and that new person starts to mime changing a light bulb. The next person in line comes up to him and asks, "What are you doing?" The person miming changing the light bulb says he's doing something else. Maybe he'll say, "I'm painting a masterpiece." It doesn't matter what you say, you're just learning how to think fast on your feet and convincing the next person to commit. So that next person proceeds to "mime painting a masterpiece," when the next person in line comes up to him and asks, "What are you doing?" The game goes on and on till everyone has a chance to play at least once.

Emotion Scenes
We also engaged in some scene work with partners. In one scene game, we were assigned space on the stage for four emotions: anger, happiness, sadness, fear. Depending on whichever emotion we were going to express in the scene, we would stand in that area. The instructor called out a scene prompt (telling us who we were or where we were), and we had to take that prompt and apply the emotions to the scene. The point here was to learn how to express various emotions. You didn't have to go big, necessarily, but you did want to focus on what it might sound like, look like, and feel like to express anger, happiness, sadness and/or fear with another person on the stage. The objective was to see if you could make a connection with the scene partner. If you could make a connection with your scene partner, you could make a connection with your audience as well.  

Body Parts
In one of the final scene games, we paired up with another person on stage to practice walking in peculiar ways. But first we were told to walk around the stage as we would normally. Then, the instructor told us to focus on a particular body part. So you might try walking around your home using your forehead first, or your elbows first, or your knees first. Once we did that, we were asked questions about what that felt like and which body part we might like to explore as a character. While the walking looked hilarious on stage, the resulting answers were interesting and insightful. One young man, who was told to walk around on stage using his forehead, thought it made him feel like a nerd or a scientist. When I walked around stage using my elbows, I felt at first like cowboy, and that morphed into feeling a bit bird-like. Since the elbows are more flexible and can move in more ways than other body parts, it seems like it could be interesting to explore just where such movement would take creativity.

Which brings me to my point of why I wanted to take the class in the first place...I was looking for an artist date with myself. I felt the need to explore creative pursuits in a more physical manner, something that would go beyond writing. Improvisational acting is certainly one way to achieve that.

What are some ways you've been exploring your creative spirit lately? 

My #1 lesson from the blogathon

It was the Buddha who said:
"Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it."
I have seen the quote interpreted also with the word "world" replaced with "work." In this day and age, with 24/7 cable news and constant access available through the internet, our cell phones and e-readers, they seem to be one and the same word.

Whatever the case may be, whatever the exact word, this quote describes what I discovered during the May Blogathon...only, it was actually a rediscovery. I came to know, once again, where my passion exists and what I must do about it. We talked last month about signs. I encountered many of them. The photo above, in fact, is one that came to me several years ago by way of an artist I met in Jerome, Ariz. I bought this painting after I saw it propped up off the floor of an empty art gallery and couldn't take my eyes off of it.

The girl is on her bike, rolling downhill, her hair blowing in the wind, not a care in the world. She is happy and free. She is me. Not literally, of course. But, in my mind, this girl on the bike symbolizes me. Sometimes, in ways I cannot explain, but the connection is present. She is part of my world, part of my passion, part of what I must share.

So if I took away anything last month that hasn't already been dissected during the 31-day blogging frenzy, it was a reconnection with my self.

Thanks to the Blogathon and my desire to focus on the BIKE, I don't think I could have accomplished anything more important than that.

What is the one thing in life you know you must do? It's that thing that sings to you in your quiet moments alone, that thing speaking to your mind when you veer off-course, that feeling tugging at your heart, pulling you back in the right direction -- even when you seem to be refusing to listen. It won't let you ignore it. What is your thing? If you don't yet know, use this month to start paying attention.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

I'm at today

During the WordCount Blogathon, I made it a point to connect with other bike bloggers. You can find them easily on Twitter, and I've visited Loving the Bike many times in the past few years. But when I visited a first time in May, I responded to a question Darryl, the site owner, poses for a monthly column. He accepted my response for a future column, and that day has arrived.

I'm featured in "Look Who's Loving the Bike" for June. Stop by and visit. See if you can relate to what the cycling lifestyle can do for you.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Day off!

After 31 straight days of blogging, I decided I deserved a day off. I'll be back tomorrow Sunday with a few lessons learned from the WordCount Blogathon.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!